This is a question which has plagued me for many years, and in a lot of ways, is what my game, Don’t Wake Me Up, is about.
Shilling aside I saw a poll in here recently quite interchangeably asking public opinion about romance in general.
We are now in among the first generation which had the option to grow up with video game romance as their first exposure to asking questions about how you would act in relationships.
I’m trying to unlearn what my teenage obsessions with video game romance taught me, and live a more real life. I noticed I developed almost algorithmic behaviours. ‘If I say these ten things on a date, I will always seduce the other person’. I saw that as a reflection of ‘there is always a correct dialogue choice to say to someone.’ I romanticised heavily the prospect of chain-dating people, as video games often present breakups or cheating with little to no consequences. Hearts are toys, in many games. I admit these aren’t good behaviours, but I feel video game relationship modelling, such as it exists, almost taught them to me before I ever had a real relationship, and I’ve had to do some work during my now adult life to not approach life with internalised game logic.
I’m somewhat curious about other people’s experience with this phenomenon. Whether it was because they learnt first about romance from video games or it was things that affected them from it another way.
Interesting question! I don’t think it has for me, but my romantic life isn’t very typical and I haven’t ever dated with romance in mind (I had a secondary-school sweetheart, we got married ten years later, have been together since).
But: I do remember when we made our first romanceable modded NPC as teenagers together for BG2, we injected a lot of the feelings and issues that arose in real life into those stories (via heavy fictionalising and high melodrama). So it was sort of the other way around, working through some stuff via writing. At that time I didn’t really “see” myself in game romances because so few that I knew of were queer, and there were very few in the games I played anyway that weren’t modded (maybe The Sims 2) but I don’t think I really connected them to real life even so. As we became more experienced writers, the later characters we wrote became more grounded. So videogame romances have in a strange way always been a part of my ongoing romantic life!
NPC responsivity, especially in romances, is such a powerful thing, balancing player-centric approaches, escapism/wish fulfilment, an interesting story, characters feeling like they have agency… I don’t think the “say all the right things to the NPC and agree with everything no matter whether they fit your actual actions or opinions in order to make numbers go up” approach is the most interesting one. The most vivid relationships in games for me are ones where characters are able to disagree with a PC, or go against what the PC wants, and for there to be the ability to reach some sort of resolution (whether that resolution is “we’ll work through this together”, “we’re breaking up”, “I’m going to hit you with a sword now” or any number of other things).
But, I don’t think I have internalised relationship models from games. Perhaps unconsciously, but I think I have been more strongly affected by them as stories - feeling heart-wrenched by a moment, or excited, or crying over something sad, rather than applying them to real life relationships. I hope that all makes sense!
Serious Answer: I think I’ve become more ok with my sexuality? At least after getting into video games. Like before I started playing video games, I was super duper into YA romance novels, and was 100% convinced I was only romantically and sexually interested in women. I think my “maybe I’d also be interested in girls” awakening came from playing Mass Effect. The first couple playthroughs, I did the normal romance targets for fem Shepard (Kaiden, Garrus, Thane) and I still love them, but I did another playthrough after, “Maybe I’ll romance Tali, I heard its cute” became “maybe I’m romantically into girls”. And after that, the only relationship I’ve been in for longer than a couple months was with another girl.
Kinda Wild Story Answer: One relationship I was in went up in flames because they were mad I had a collection of acrylic stands of characters from an otome visual novel. They got like, super passive aggressive making comments about “maybe your fictional boyfriend can do it”. I wasn’t even into the visual novel much anymore, I had gotten the acrylic stands a while ago and they were on the shelf with the rest of the anime merch from anime I used to be a fan of. (The visual novel in question was Hakuouki)
I think, potentially, that videogame romance has made me less likely to seek out real life relationships. In general I am a person that is perfectly happy to be alone, mostly because other people are a lot of work. Maintaining a relationship, even a great and happy relationship, is a lot of effort. Videogame relationships, even the ones in IF that try to be super realistic don’t deal with a tenth of the work that goes into a real relationship. Sure, they might be DRAMATIC, but they are very rarely laborious. You don’t see the day to day grind and compromise of meshing your life with another person’s.
Having videogame relationships to (somewhat) scratch that interpersonal itch has made me less likely to be willing to put in the work of cultivating a real relationship. That is probably (read: definitely) not healthy, but I’m in a good place at the moment so I’ll take it for now.
Do you mean you were convinced you were only interested in men? From context I think that’s what you were saying.
Oof, chameleon drive, yeah. I feel personally attacked by this statement.
This is such an interesting question. Thank you for posing it! I can relate somewhat to the algorithmic behaviors you mentioned; due to my formative experiences, I developed that sort of chameleon drive where I did my best to become whatever I thought people wanted or needed to remain relevant. It took me longer than I care to admit to learn to show up authentically in my interpersonal relations.
Maybe not games specifically, but I think media in general (films, tv, literature, etc) has been slowly becoming my venue for experiencing intimacy and romance vicariously. For a little bit of background, I’m pretty sure I’m somewhere on the Aro spectrum, so for the most part, what has distinguished my platonic and romantic/intimate relationships in the past was the degree of physical intimacy myself and the other person engaged in. I’ve also been on HRT for long enough that it has wrecked my “equipment” and libido, so right now, I feel entirely removed from the realm of attraction and desire that I was so familiar with in the past.
I used to be that person who was head over heels for a different woman every few weeks, but now I don’t experience that same yearning or visceral sort of infatuation anymore. Or at least it’s not as accessible as it once was, so now I’m mostly getting my mushy dopamine from fanfiction lol.
I’ve always been a bit concerned that for some people, it could serve as a bit of a crutch that prevented them from being as likely to seek out actual relationships. The level of fervent affection some people have for characters that do not exist can seem unhealthy at times. There’s being a fan and then there’s something else.
If anything, my real life experience with relationships affects my ability to overlook some of the huge issues I see game romances. It’s one reason I end up getting annoyed with a lot of romances in games, because how they’re portrayed is just so damned ludicrous. And anything as one-sided as a lot of these “romances” are played would never get off the ground. Like Lance said, relationships are work, which is why I laugh when people complain about soulmates–the connection can be there naturally (as far as I’m concerned), but it doesn’t guarantee the relationship will work. That requires commitment from the parties involved, and the willingness to work with the other person to find compromises when you clash, because soulmates or not, you aren’t frigging Borg.
I worry the same thing. I also worry that people play these games and start expecting anyone they’re interested in to behave like characters in a lot of these games–whether that’s the over-the-top “romantic” gestures and words or the “angst” that so many seem to love so much, it’s just not realistic, and if that’s what people are looking for, they may find nothing but misery at the bottom of their crackerjack box. Not saying that the no one would resort to dramatic romantic gestures of poetry and hair tossing emotional declarations, but I think it’s a bit rare (and weird, but that’s just me). And the “angst”… well, we all have drama in our lives, but if people’s idea of romance is being used as an emotional punching bag, that worries me.
All of this is one of the main reasons I keep harping on having romance in these games that actually start the relationship fairly early, so a healthy and relatively happy relationship can be portrayed, with the partners against their problems, instead of against each other (plus, that would be a nice change from what we typically get). Having a mature relationship doesn’t mean you can’t have fun (my husband and I are immature idiots sometimes), but it does mean you aren’t constantly trying to make the other person’s life hell, and when there are issues, you discuss them. The few games I’ve fond that actually seem to portray relationships in a more realistic, and healthy, way have been a breath of fresh air.
That does sound like something to be concerned about, yes. On the other hand I can totally understand how the fact you can’t just load an earlier save in real life makes certain real life situations scary, but that isn’t only limited to relationships, and I haven’t heard a lot of people avoiding getting a real job because the game jobs are safer (I mean, I can imagine people avoiding getting a job because they want more time to play games, but that’s not the same thing).
Okay in my defense, I critique soulmates because people often use the trope to overlook the work it takes to get and maintain a relationship with someone. I really, really want a story focused on someone who is in a world with soulmates, found theirs, but their soulmate is a terrible person and partner. So the MC leaves that relationship and has to discover someone on their own without that whole aspect playing into it.
I wouldn’t say that games have made me less interested in pursuing real life relationships so much as they have helped me with working through periods of social isolation and to help fill romantic needs when I am in real life not ready for handling a relationship. As others have said relationships require work, not to mention commitment, mutual understanding, compassion, etc. Those things can often be in short supply for me. So, when I am not ready for it, having the capacity to immerse myself in a world where another can engage in the place of myself is… soothing.
For the love of the Gods please allow us to have some early romances in games so we can watch the people actually fumbling through the relationship instead of just getting to the kiss/sex and calling it a happy ending!
…if I could choose I’d skip writing the start of the relationship altogether because I frankly have no idea how to write that, but I don’t think that would mesh well with player choice (how would you choose before knowing the character?)
I think i was more affected by what tv/movies (“romcoms”) said about romance. When I was younger i very much had overly romanticized expectations of how you were “supposed to be treated” in a relationship because of this…and felt like it was my fault if my partner wasnt treating me the way that romcoms said they should. It was really hard to get over at first, actually…to retrain my brain and not worry so much, if someone wasn’t doing/saying all of the romantic things I had viewed over and over at nauseum. Now that I am older, I still love a good romance, but view it in a more realistic lense.
Because I had already learned my lesson by the time I had gotten into gaming romances, it doesnt affect me in the slightest. I self insert BUT sometimes do things I normally wouldn’t in a relationship just to see what the writer had in store for such a scenario. Because i self insert, I DO get more annoyed when my character cannot react to toxic behaviors in the ro’s. We should atleast be able to dump someone who treats us poorly, because i play these games for entertainment aaaaaand that’s not fun for me.
Personally, romance across all mediums (films, games, books, etc) have affected me (and somewhat negatively to be honest) in that department since it just shines a spotlight on the fact that I just don’t feel towards anyone what they all describe.
Doubly so when sex comes into the equation (since I’m aroace).
I still enjoy the genre(s) but the sheer pervasiveness of it and they way society as a whole caters to it can leave me feeling more like an outsider looking in at times.
Show me the character and my MCs will be able to choose pretty quickly. I think part of it is that I never was one for all the build-up–I knew if I liked someone right out of the gate, and if they liked me back, fine, let’s get on with it. If not, fine, have a good life. All the dancing around each other stuff never worked for me. I’m too direct, don’t like games (in romance, I mean), and get bored with that crap very fast.
There has been some heated arguments in the various threads concerning romance. The problem goes beyond romance. Video game and CoG stuff has affected my real life actions. Not so much romantic relationships and romantic actions. I have no romantic life in reality. I never self-insert. In games, it’s basically a combo attack power up. Do things with your RO and suddenly, you get a whole lot powerful. In real life, there are no Weapon Ups, no Energy Tanks, no Romance Ups that can be found in levels. You have do everything the hard way. Ah, if only I had a Mega Buster to blast whatever that is in my way…
If it’s starting to behave like that way, or in my case, expect a video game style solution to my problems, then you’re basically in your own world- I do that a lot. A double-edged sword. Escape is necessary to destress- but too much escapism is never a good thing, I’m afraid. A good relationship involves overcoming the odds, being realistic and healthy. That is one fight that we can relate better.
Probably higher standards and general escapism since I used to play otome games. Also, I’m a fellow ace so I’ve never been in a relationship before and the odds are bad enough for me IRL.
I feel like I do try romances for different MC and LI if I find them compelling because it’s kinda of like an extra mini-arc for me to read and relate to in a book. Also, you can interact with the RO for various reasons and I feel like it’d be a funny reaction to MC doing strange things.
FWIW: I have dropped books if none of the romances interest me since I feel eh, there are a lot of books already I haven’t read and I can always choose RO there. Also, I’m not really a completionist as I just play the RO I find interesting then stop and start a different book is nothing keeps me reading the same one again.
Between high school and now, which was quite awhile, I’ve been through quite a lot relationships. Most of which I’m not particularly proud of and have greatly hurt me as a person. But I have at least had the mindset of being able to separate romance in games and interactive fiction between that of real life.
I have a serious problem with I guess you would label it social anxiety. I do not like being around or interacting with people in real life. It makes me deeply uncomfortable until I’m in a situation where the person I’m interacting with is daily and I get comfortable with them. Its a very long process for myself personally and it’s also why finding work is difficult for me. I find it fascinating because I have a lot of confidence when it comes to talking to people, its just underneath that it’s a deeply unsettling squirming anxiety, and It makes me hate doing it.
That said, I have come to discover that while I love the quiet and being left alone, I also hate being entirely alone, and I appreciate having at least one other person around me at a minimum, whether its in a friendly or romantic setting. The romantic option is the one that deeply appeals to me because despite how I am as a person, I crave affection and attention and love from someone I’m close too but because of how I am, that is difficult to acquire for many reasons and takes a long time to work towards, but I have discovered a nice band aid is playing a game or reading a story that has romance options already and they are what helps me push off my negative thoughts relating to said things.
Which is why I can’t get invested in stories or games that don’t have romance options. A prime example of this was The Outer Worlds. Interesting and fun game, but the moment I realized I couldn’t get my character with anybody, my investment in the game itself tanked and I started finding myself losing interest very quickly which sucks cuz the game was pretty good up until I realized that.
Not saying it was a bad game but you know.
I don’t think romance in games has affected my real life relationships more so than it has helped me have a buffer to explore those feelings on my own until I meet another person I’m comfortable with in real life to explore them with instead. Which in turn has made me a lot more comfortable with myself and what I’m into and find attractive in the longer run.
Honestly just the reverse. I always romance the options I like, and while no character romance has impacted my irl taste going through relationships has shown me the kinda people I like. Used to go for the tsundere type, but now I would like to not do a bunch of mental puzzles and get with the sweet straightforward options lol